Peel’s quote about those who don’t like the Fall could for me apply equally to the rowdy, rumbustious and yet totally charming all-female band Babes In Toyland, who were formed in Minneapolis in 1987. At first hearing, Fontanelle (if you’re wondering, it’s the soft part on the crown of a baby’s head) is 15 tracks of unrelenting, strident aural assault. One song of hatred and revenge follows swiftly on the heels of another. Yet, in the story of grunge and its revolutionary upturning of punk that set the world of music on its heels for an unfairly short time, this is without equal. Kat Bjelland screams and howls bitter raillery (‘You fucking bitch, well I hope your insides rot‘) [she told John Peel in a 1991 interview that the last time she got nervous was when she had to sing Colour My World at high school!!], Lori Barbero’s drums are as jagged and bludgeoning in their machine-gun rhythms, and Michelle Leon’s bass thunders its rock-solid patterns.
Much was made of Bjelland’s ‘kinderwhore’ image, yet this was a deceptive mask to draw the unwilling into the powerhouse of tunes that the band unleashed. It was as if a caged animal was running rampant on the vinyl. Bruise Violet (FF 1992 #9) set the tone as the first track, a murderous blast of vitriol that was allegedly an attack on Bjelland’s former bandmate Courtney Love (although she has since denied this). The chord sequence is reminiscent of Nirvana’s About A Girl, but whereas that was was gently unsettling in its major-minor shifts, this is direct and raw.
No doubt she would also deny that Handsome And Gretel was a portrait of Hole and Curt Cobain. Whatever, this track managed to gain entry to the Festive Fifty in two consecutive years, which, as I have said before, was highly unusual after 1982. The reason for this was that it was originally released on Insipid Records as a single in 1991, and this version made #18 in the 1991 FF. However, the album version that came out the following year was a re-recording, slightly looser and yet paradoxically shorter, consequently making FF 1992 #22.
Though the band haven’t made any music for some seven years now, they were an inspiration to the feminist ‘riot grrrl’ movement, and listening to them now gives a chilling perspective on the knife-edge sensibilities prevalent at the time.